Salem Chapel, BME Church
During the mid-1800s, a vibrant Black community took root in and around Geneva and North Streets. Harriet Tubman and other freedom seekers became members of the local, interracial Refugee Slaves Friend’s Society, which also counted as members Welland Canal pioneer and merchant, William Hamilton Merritt as well as the City’s first Mayor, Elias Smith Adams.
The Salem Chapel, BME Church was a central part of that community. The land the church currently sits on was purchased from William Hamilton Merritt and Oliver Phelps in 1835. A rapidly growing congregation resulted in the need to enlarge the church; construction on the present day chapel (the third church building constructed) began in 1853. Undoubtedly the most famous member of the congregation was legendary Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman; she attended the BME Church when she lived in the City during the 1850’s.
To discover more about the Salem Chapel, visit their web site at www.salemchapelbmechurch.ca
Zion Baptist Church
Originally located on Geneva Street, Zion Baptist Church had as one of its pastors former slave, Rev. Anthony Burns. Before Burns arrived in St. Catharines, he made headlines in the United States.
An escaped slave, Burns was re-captured in Boston, and put on trial under the Fugitive Slave Act. The decision that Burns would be returned to his owner ignited the Boston Slave Riot of 1854. Rev. Burns came to live in St. Catharines in 1860, serving as pastor at Zion Baptist Church until his death in 1862.
Rev. Burns is buried in Victoria Lawn Cemetery, where a plaque stands in his honour.
Meredith Leonard is the Visitor Services Coordinator at the St. Catharines Museum & Welland Canals Centre.